The year 2020 was a strange one for all of us, but for Grace Cheatley the surprise of the pandemic was surpassed only by the fact that she ended up living through it in Texas, Queensland.
As 2020 began, Grace Cheatley was prepared for a big year, she’d just graduated with a degree in youth work and made the move from Geelong to Melbourne to start a new job as a university welfare officer for international students.
In her mind, she was set up for a year of Melbourne nightlife, watching footy, meeting new people and enjoying being single.
It was March, the weekend before starting her new job, when Grace went to some country races in Northern Victoria and met Dennis.
“We met on the dance floor, it was just so random,” she said, “he wasn’t even meant to get to these races, he had come down for a cattle sale with a mate and was going to turn around and head home that day but his mate convinced him to come.”
After this chance meeting Grace went back to Melbourne and Dennis back to his property near Texas on the Queensland New South Wales border.
Then, a week later, the World Health Organisation announced the arrival of a global pandemic. Grace quickly lost her new job under the unofficial rule of last-one-in-first-one-out. At the same time she picked up her phone to a call from Dennis saying he couldn’t stop thinking of her, would she like to come to Texas and visit?
“I just headed up. I drove the whole way, the 15 hours from Torquay to Texas and spent the week with him.”
Several months later, she made the decision to move to Texas more permanently, a decision that wasn’t without its difficulties.
“And I’ve never not known how to be Grace Cheatley. It’s been really challenging, I struggled with my mental health quite a lot.”
Reflecting on what it’s like to be in a town where she didn’t know anyone, and challenged by the fact that she was unable to see family in Victoria.
“You are completely out of your comfort zone, you’re in a place where no one knows you, you don’t know anyone. And you’re thrown into the deep end in terms of what you’re used to in your life and I certainly wasn’t used to living on a farm.”
To get over this, Grace leant into the feeling of starting from scratch. She had no opportunity to rely on the safety net that is friends and family, so she built herself up on her own.
For her, this has meant throwing herself into all aspects of the community.
“I’m loving my sheep work, and I’ve been driving tractors – which I never thought I would have been doing – I’ve been fencing, I work at the school, I work at the pool, I’ve worked at the pub.”
“I think, in a small town especially, it’s really important for me to be someone who was going to form connections.”
So what’s next for Grace? Well she sees a real opportunity to continue her work with the kids within the Texas community and bring her passion for supporting them to find their feet and opportunities. With an acknowledgement of the realness and the importance of mental health services in rural communities, she thinks her formal education and training in this space could help support a more vibrant and empowered Texas.
Listen to her story: